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Veterans and Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction is rife in the veteran and active military communities. Learn more about addiction in veterans and military members.

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Addiction in Veterans

Active-duty service members and veterans have higher rates of alcohol and prescription and illicit drug abuse. Many of these people have undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Why Do Veterans Use Drugs and Alcohol

Many people who serve in the United States military or are veterans struggle with dependence. Fortunately, several treatment options for addiction in veterans and active military members are available.

Veterans who have served in the military may have co-occurring disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression or in addition to addiction.

PTSD and Addiction in Veterans

Many veterans suffering from dependence also have PTSD.

PTSD, also known as battle fatigue and shellshock, can be caused by witnessing warfare or other significantly tragic or startling events.

Although combat is the most common cause of PTSD, veterans may develop the disorder as a result of sexual abuse. Approximately 23% of female veterans have reported being sexually assaulted while serving in the military.

PTSD symptoms include the following:
  • Flashbacks
  • Memory issues
  • a lack of self-esteem
  • Hopelessness
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Aggression
  • Self-destructive behavior (self-harm or substance abuse)
These symptoms can be triggered by anything that reminds the individual of the traumatic event. Many veterans turn to substance abuse to numb their pain, and as a form of self-medication.

People who have PTSD have a more difficult time overcoming dependence than those who do not.

Withdrawal symptoms, when combined with PTSD symptoms, amplify negative feelings and emotions, potentially leading to a relapse.

Addiction treatment programs that address both PTSD and addiction are the most effective for veterans.

Prescription Medications and Veteran Addiction

Anxiety medications, many of which are highly addictive, are frequently prescribed to veterans with PTSD. Some doctors prescribe non-addictive antidepressant medications such as Zoloft or Paxil to lower the risk of addiction. Even veterans who do not have PTSD can become addicted to pain relievers prescribed for combat-related injuries.

Some common prescription drugs that veterans become addicted to include:
  • Pain relievers (Lortab, Vicodin, OxyContin) 
  • Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Valium, Xanax) 
  • Sedatives (Ambien, Lunesta) 
  • Beta Blockers (Inderal, Cardicor, Tenormin)
Veterans who use these drugs may develop a dependence on them, which means they develop a tolerance to their effects and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using them.
Veterans may develop a full-fledged addiction over time, characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior.
In an effort to reduce drug abuse among service members and veterans, some medical professionals are advocating for tighter restrictions on how long addictive medications can be prescribed.

Alcohol and Illegal Drugs in the Military

Few service members take the risk of using illegal drugs in the military because it can result in a dishonorable discharge. Drinking, on the other hand, is an ingrained part of military culture that often carries over into civilian life. All too often, veterans and service members who self-medicate with alcohol develop an addiction.

Some veterans who become addicted to pain relievers and PTSD medications turn to illegal drugs. Illicit drugs such as heroin are frequently less expensive and are easier to obtain than prescription pain relievers.

Veterans' Care

Veterans seeking addiction treatment have options available to them. In addition to traditional inpatient and outpatient rehab programs, veterans have the unique option of seeking treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

This is advantageous for veterans who may be unable to find an affordable treatment program on their own.

The VA provides:

  • Counseling on a one-to-one basis
  • Family therapy Group therapy
  • PTSD treatment
  • Outpatient/Inpatient Rehabilitation
  • Withdrawal medication

Some veterans avoid the VA when seeking medical care because it can take a long time to receive treatment. In cases of severe PTSD or addiction, receiving immediate treatment is critical, and seeking treatment outside of the VA can be beneficial. There are numerous qualified treatment centers for addicted veterans with underlying PTSD.

If you are a veteran struggling with an addiction, contact us today. We are here to help you find the right inpatient rehab to treat your addiction and any co-occurring disorder. 

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